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Minister must keep his focus on service

Does Edwin Poots ever feel a little sympathy for Michael McGimpsey, his predecessor as Health Minister?

Mr McGimpsey was derided as an alarmist whinger by the DUP and Sinn Fein for raising the alarm over the level of resource needed by our Health Service.

The big parties rubbed their hands together as Mr Poots took over in May 2011, promising "fresh eyes". He hoped to concentrate emergency services in a few areas, increase the role of the faith sector and he lashed out millions on consultants' fees.

He talks a good fight. "I have made clear from my first day as minister that the underlying objective for the entire health system is to protect and improve the quality of services we deliver. The health service must be safe, effective and totally focused on the patient," Mr Poots told the Assembly on Monday, and he repeated the mantra yesterday as he fielded questions on the latest crisis in accident and emergency services where five deaths in the past year were blamed on delay.

Yet Mr Poots' three years as minister have been characterised by a series of crises due, basically, to stretched resources and poor priorities. They started with the Pseudomonas crisis, when it emerged that 26 babies had died since 2008 from a common infection spread through the water supply due to failings in hygiene.

Since then it has been one crisis after another. His efforts to privatise elderly care was a PR disaster. Now A&E departments are in crisis. Some close at weekends whilst the rest rely too heavily on trainee doctors who decamp to Australia because conditions here are so bad.

We used to recruit medical staff from less fortunate countries, now we export both doctors and nurses trained at huge public expense.

Some of his plans, such as setting up polyclinics to deal with less urgent surgery and treatments could take the strain off the A&E.

It is hard to escape the feeling though, that his eye hasn't always been fully on the ball. Much time was spent tilting at windmills in pursuit of what looks like a personal moral agenda.

We have seen time-consuming scandals over his attempts to tighten up abortion regulation, and his unsuccessful fight to make gay couples ineligible to adopt.

He has won the latest round in his battle to ban gay men from giving blood, but is still forced to import blood from Britain where there is no such ban.

Mr Poots is a political bruiser, both energetic and able but he needs to stop wasting time and resources on tom fool projects. We need all his focus on the health service. Otherwise he will become a political liability and be dumped.

Belfast Telegraph